Saturday, July 15, 2017

Rachael REDACTED's Current Query Critiqued

Sorry for the delay, Rachel, but this evening we are back with your query letter for REDACTED, this time with my thoughts, in blue.

Here we go:


What if the answer to a lifelong question comes as the sound of a death knell? Um, no. I'm not sure if I should go into great detail here, or just link to several examples of why rhetorical questions area a no no in queries, but just skip this part. Seriously. This isn't bad writing as rhetorical questions go, but you don't need this. What you need is CHARACTER AND CONFLICT. ASAP. Which brings us to ... This is what 17-year-old Lilah Crowne hears only days before Ascension Day, her eighteenth birthday and the day she’ll come into her full anima.

Okay, otherwise, not so bad. Lilah Crowne is a good name. 17-year-old is a good descriptor. I like "Ascension Day," and "into full anima," assuming magic, but prepared for other options. 

The problem here is that you've ruined everything with that nonsensical question. I get that, like a term paper in high school, it seems to make sense to open with something that will make the reader think, hmm, right? No. Readers of queries don't want to be asked questions that they have no answers to, or worse, don't care about. They want to be introduced to a CHARACTER, immediately, that they care about, and want to root for, and empathize with whether they win or lose.

To be fair, you really haven't ruined this query regarding Lilah, you've just buried the lede. She reads like a relatively interesting character, who simply needs a better setup. So, I would recommend, something along the lines of:

...Seventeen-year-old Lilah Crowne, a particularly gifted warrior student of the Nox sect, orphaned by the war, hears a death knell that voids all the questions of her life, only days before Ascension Day, her birthday, and the day she’ll come into her full anima.

Except, you know, better, and in your voice, but surely you can see how this combines the concepts you've already laid out, into far fewer words, and into a presentation which places the character front and foremost, where she belongs.

Set in a future where everyone has magical abilities, magic abounds? Lilah—a member of the Nox sect and an orphan of the War—is a particularly gifted Warrior student Lilah is in her last year of schooling at the acclaimed Black Hill Academy (Um, be careful. Read EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir. This is dangerously close to Black Cliff Academy). While her fellow students have a sense of direction for what they are to do after graduation, Lilah is uncertain of what her future holds. After participating in the yearly Ludi, a set of competitions against the Lux, the infamous Alessandra Hilt storms the celebrations, killing Lilah’s beloved Guardian, Verna. Raked by profound grief, Lilah soon discovers that Alessandra Hilt, motivated by a premonition told after her birth, seeks to kill her.

All in all, this has some muddy phrasing, but isn't altogether bad. Tighten the writing up, you'll be in good shape.

Another point, somewhat less important, but worth thinking about: I've highlighted every character you've named in this query. It's ... only four, but that's too many. Can any of them be reduced to: Villain, or Love Interest, or Best Friend? Archetypes exist because they work, and frankly, any query that has more than two named characters will often be passed over.

Thrust into the remnants of Alessandra and her sister’s War, Why are we capitalizing War? Come on. Give us a reason if there's actually a reason. If not, don't. Lilah is forced to make uneasy alliances with Caleb Addison, a young Lux man who Lilah ties with at the Ludi. But to survive, they must outmaneuver Alessandra and her horde of bewitched Warriors, all while Lilah conquers the secret enemy, the one within. Vague. Vague AF. No. Don't do this. This query, in spite of my nitpicks, is kind of singing along nicely. But this line ruins it. I get we, as novelists, like mystery. There's nothing more exciting than turning a phrase near the end of the book that shocks the reader. Don't try to do the same thing in a query though. Don't ever. Agents don't need to be surprised. They need to be inspired into feeling that they can sell a book. As Ascension Day comes closer, she finds herself slipping into a darkness unfathomable.

Huh? Do you mean, "an unfathomable darkness?" Or are you purposefully trying to sound like a 19th century romance novel? DO NOT play games with purple prose in query letters. I promise you, it won't work. If you feel strongly enough, fine, do it in the book, but the place for such things is in the manuscript, not in the query letter.

Along the way, Lilah must learn to grow the parts of herself the Nox deem useless-Sorry, she's supposed to grow the parts the Nox deemed useless? Did I miss the part where the Nox were idiots? Sorry, just feel like I'm missing something here-and to continue on when facing great adversity. And when all might be lost, she must learn how to channel her burgeoning power, the same power that can end the War for good—or Lilah herself.

My 105,000-word novel, REDACTED, is a NA Urban Fantasy, coming-of-age tale that combines the magic, mystery, and friendship of Harry Potter and the dark political and social turmoil of The Hunger Games.

REDACTED, complete at 105,00 words, is a NA Urban Fantasy (which, no offense, doesn't sound urban at all) that combines magic, mystery and friendships. NOTE: The "whole compare my manuscript to two successful novels" thing is debatable. IF you're going to do it, maybe dig deeper into what sells in the genre(s), and don't compare your unpublished manuscript to two of the most commercially successful properties of all time. Doing so tells your (potential) agent nothing specific about your project, and only paints you, as an aspiring author, as a person who only has a surface understanding of the industry.

REDACTED is a novel for anyone who’s ever had a secret knowing of themselves that they could never bring to light—without a little magic.

Eh, this is relatively good.

This is my first novel, No. Don't EVER say this in a query. If you don't have a bio, it's understood, and if you say it, it points you out as a rookie. and is part of a trilogy that I’m working on (already have first drafts for both the second and third installments). The first completed installment in an intended trilogy.

Thank you for considering REDACTED.



That's it!

Again, Rachael, sorry for the delay. Life has been getting in the way of this blog for some time now, but I truly hope this helps you. I won't summarize the overall quality of this query yet, because you have some work to do, but I will say that your overall story clearly shines through with a strong narrative, and you simply need to learn how to distill that down into a 250 word query letter, which believe me, is not an easy thing to do.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You you went all out with this one. I can see why starting with a question isn't good. Now I know.

mshatch said...

I don't think I can add much to what Matt has already said.